Our Shakespeare VR pieces mark a new collaboration between Relative Motion and composer, Tom Adams. Here’s Tom discussing his work with RM:
“I come from a theatre background as composer and performer and was really interested in Relative Motion's approach in combining theatre, film and video game languages. VR is such a brilliant opportunity to allow the audience to feel truly invested in a piece. What I loved most about these three Shakespeare experiences was that each one had a distinct flavour. This gave me a chance to use different methods to try and support the storylines.
My musical approach is to watch each piece again and again and improvise, experimenting with what instruments to use. My main aim is to not be self-conscious when composing – I just follow the story and let the process take care of itself. Being a performer myself, it is a lot like being on stage: trusting in the moment and breathing. Something will happen.
I have collected quite a large collection of sound making things - guitars, ukulele, bass, harmonica and upright piano to stranger elements such as crisp packets, gongs, sticks and a brilliant sea drum that sounds like the sea. Put all of these into effects pedals, change the pitch, speed it up and you've got something completely your own and organic, bespoke to the piece. I love this part of the process where you can match the mood to the sounds.
With King Lear, it might be apparent that I have been watching a lot of Ozark recently! I am inspired by the way the composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans use tension in music. I was on edge the whole time. I am also inspired by how organic sounds can be manipulated into something completely new and unrecognisable.
For Romeo & Juliet, the first thing I wrote down when watching the piece for the first time was 'electric guitar'. I liked the subtlety in their performances and the spaces in between dialogue, allowing the scene to breathe. This was my opportunity to insert some sexy, Pink Floyd style, reverb guitar. Chris, the director, gave me one word which which I really liked: "clandestine". It was then I knew the guitar had to be gentle and caring, sexy and post coital. The score ramps up at the end, with danger and I wanted to find a low sub bass sound that would highlight Romeo's high stakes - death, if caught in her bedroom.
On As You Like It, I knew it needed a more classical but silly edge. A soundtrack that has a method and logic all to itself. We used vocals in this piece a lot and I really enjoyed each instrument playing a character. Inspiration came from the confusion of the characters and the pacey dialogue. This is a piece that grabs you by the horns and doesn't let go.
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!"
Once the piece has been mapped out, I like to do a walking test for the camera to make sure that it all feels right for SAM. I watch my stumble through in headset and tweak as needed until I have movement patterns that feel spatially and textually authentic. I generally like to rehearse on location/set too. My draft staging is essentially my pencil sketch for the piece and I fill it in with the actors, as they will always bring new insights that will shape the work. Working on site means that we can all play with the space and pull inspiration from it. Also, the more comfortable the performers are with the macro and micro aspects of the environment, the easier it will be for them to craft refined, authentic performances. This process also includes working with the lighting and sound designer to make sure that any key effects are built into the work from the start. This is especially critical for SFX, as you’ll need to rehearse these into the staging with your actors. Don’t leave either until the end.
Costumes and props also have to be built in during this part of the process. Clearly, this will have been planned for in pre-production but will come into play at this stage. I should also mention that, before the first location rehearsal, I have at least one rehearsal with the actors/singers to read/sing through the work, talk them through concepts, characters etc. and tweak anything we can in advance of the first staging rehearsal.
Before moving from rehearsals to capture mode, we always to a ‘dress/tech rehearsal’ that is captured and reviewed in headset so we can refine any niggling bits of staging, lighting etc. This also affords us the opportunity to give the performers time in the headset with themselves should aspects of their performances need work – often any unconvincing acting moments can be easily sorted by letting the actor experience the problematic moment for themselves. Each project requires a slightly different approach where rehearsals and capture are concerned. More rehearsals are likely required for longer stories/text, and with CGI projects, it’s important to get the actors into the headset so they can explore the environments and build memories that they can take into our rehearsal space – this is a critical step for performers in any CG project – as is extensive physical character work so that actors can authentically embody their avatars in the mo-cap studio.
When we move into capturing the work there are some things I am adamant about being part of this process. First, we work in single takes (I aim to do this with CGI projects as well) so that the energy of the performances and story world are consistent. With this in mind, actors must have embodied the text (be it dialogue, music or both). Memorisation is critical and can’t be avoided (unlike in film where things can be cheated). I’m also a keen on developing a rating process (scale of 1 to 10) with the performers so that I can gauge their feelings about each take in tandem with my own. This helps highlight the best takes from the worst. What’s interesting about this is that we are almost always unanimous in our understanding about the takes crashed and those that soared.
Written by Christopher Lane